A MemoirMay-lee Chai
In the mid-1960s, Winberg Chai, a young academic and the son of Chinese immigrants, married an Irish-American artist. In Hapa Girl ("hapa" is Hawaiian for "mixed") their daughter tells the story of this loving family as they moved from Southern California to New York to a South Dakota farm by the 1980s. In their new Midwestern home, the family finds itself the object of unwelcome attention, which swiftly escalates to violence. The Chais are suddenly socially isolated and barely able to cope with the tension that arises from daily incidents of racial animosity, including random acts of cruelty.
May-lee Chai's memoir ends in China, where she arrives just in time to witness a riot and demonstrations. Here she realizes that the rural Americans' "fears of change, of economic uncertainty, of racial anxiety, of the unknowable future compared to the known past were the same as China's. And I realized finally that it had not been my fault."
"A tour-de-force sojourn into a never-before-told zone of small town American bigotry. Hapa Girl is consistently stylish, permanently courageous, bitingly tragic, but always rationally detached with a Marx Brothers' wit. This is May-lee Chai's best comment yet about America."
—Anthony B. Chan, author of Perpetually Cool: The Many Lives of Anna May Wong
"I was captivated by May-lee Chai's Hapa Girl from the first sentence. It continued to be so powerful that I read it in one sitting. It's at once brutal and sad, humorous and plucky. Chai has beautifully captured the deep racism and bigotry that lurks in our country with how one misguided decision can change a family's fortunes forever. Hapa Girl made me think about the bonds of family and the vicissitudes of place long after I finished the last page."
—Lisa See, author of Snow Flower and The Secret Fan
"Easily labeled a coming-of-age story or a narrative about racial tensions in 1960s America, this memoir-whose title employs the Hawaiian word for mixed-is truly an homage to a loving marriage. Only the strongest kind of love could survive the crucible of a community hoping for a family's failure. Highly recommended for all libraries with large memoir and Asian collections."
"May-Lee Chai’s memoir Hapa Girl examines living on the mainland, conservative South Dakota in particular, and the racial tensions that accompany it…Chai is best when painting hurtful moments from her life relating to the issue at hand.…(It) could (be) a valuable resource for those seeking self-discovery on being of mixed race."